Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul

Apples in Winter
Gremlin Theatre
Review by Arthur Dorman | Season Schedule

Also see Arty's recent review of A Unique Assignment

Angela Timberman
Photo by Alyssa Christine Photography
With the globalization of the produce industry we can now get most fruits and vegetables year-round. Still, the best tasting and best-looking produce is what we gather, or harvest, or purchase while they are locally in season, whether we buy them at a grocery store or farmers' market, gather them in the woods, or harvest them from a garden or tree in our own yard. For apples, fall is that season. By winter, apples lack the definitive, crisp texture and sweetness that make autumn trips to apple orchards such a beloved tradition for many families, certainly here in the upper Midwest. After the prime picks of apple season, winter apples can be a distinct disappointment.

Gremlin Theatre's Apples in Winter is a gripping play by Jennifer Fawcett that has one actor and three or four apples on stage. The actor is Angela Timberman, giving a riveting performance as Miriam, the play's sole character. The apples are there to be cut up and mixed with butter, flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice, and transformed into an apple pie, all of which Miriam does in our presence. It is late winter, and these winter apples are not the best, but the circumstances require apples right now. Miriam tells us–or perhaps is trying to convince herself–that "he'll understand" if the pie is a shade off.

"He" is her son Robert, and the reason the pie must be made today, using whatever apples are available, is that in seven hours he will be executed. Twenty-two years before, Robert was sentenced to death for a heinous crime. When given the opportunity to choose his last meal, honoring a longstanding tradition coupled with capital punishment, Robert requested a slice of his mother's apple pie.

Miriam could have refused to be part of a ceremony associated with him being put to death (it did occur to her) but she is a mother. Savoring the first slice of apple pie she baked year after year from the first ripe apples on the tree in their backyard was another kind of ceremony, in which Miriam took the fruits of the earth, transformed them with her know-how and her love, and thereby nurtured and delighted her son.

As she slices, grates, mixes and spreads, Miriam talks about her marriage, their life as a family–she, her husband Larry, and Robert–and how Robert began to deviate from the life she imagined for him. She ruminates over what she missed, what she could have done differently. She shares her anxieties about what people think of her, a mother whose son could do something so monstrous, and the isolation into which she has fallen. She describes how different the passage of time is in this unchanging existence. Interspersed with this, Miriam tells us, step by step, exactly how to make an apple pie, sharing tips that are worth remembering. Once in the on-stage oven, the aroma of the pie wafts throughout the theater, and we are all transported with Miriam.

One more noteworthy thing: the kitchen in which Miriam bakes a pie for her son's final meal is not in her home, but in the prison. Regulations forbid her bringing outside baked goods into the penitentiary. Who knows what she might bake into such a pie? So, Miriam must work her artistry in a cold, stainless steel industrial kitchen (a terrific set designed by Carl Schoenborn, who is also responsible for the atmospheric lighting), removed from the place where she lovingly baked those September apple pies.

Director Brian Balcom modulates the tone, with Miriam's eighty-five-minute-long monologue veering from lightweight, to confessional, from perfunctory to desperate. Working from Fawcett's wholly authentic dialogue, he tracks Miriam as she zeroes in on the task at hand or focuses on her audience, wanting to be sure we are paying attention as she reveals critical dos and don'ts of pie-making. From there she may ricochet into a meditation about Robert's childhood, or a bitter reproach aimed at her husband, or excoriating her own, unknown role in the tragedy that has absorbed her life.

Angela Timberman takes that modulation and delivers a tour-de-force performance, but not one that draws attention to itself, announcing the presence of a superb actor. Here, the actor vanishes and only Miriam–a distraught, defensive, terrified mother of a man on death row–is on stage. When she calls out the name of each of her pie ingredients (e.g., "cinnamon" or "allspice") she lets out a soft chuckle of delight, as if greeting an old friend and finding comfort there, transforming the mundane into something heartrending. I have seen Timberman in dozens of performances over the past two decades, and she is always better than good, but here she is mesmerizing, heartbreaking, and absolutely truthful.

Apples in Winter was commissioned by the National New Play Network and premiered in 2018. It does not grapple with the issue of capital punishment, nor is it in any way a procedural tamping down of the evidence used to convict Robert of his crime. It is a study and revelation of a woman coping with the extremes of emotion, trying to contain it all within her one, otherwise ordinary life. Fawcett's play and Timberman's performance make this a high-water mark on what has been a richly rewarding theatre season.

Apples in Winter runs through April 7, 2024, at Gremlin Theatre, 550 Vandalia Street, Saint Paul MN. For tickets and information, please visit or call 1-888-71 TICKETS.

Playwright: Jennifer Fawcett; Director: Brian Balcom; Technical Director, Set and Light Designer: Carl Schoenborn; Costume and Prop Designer: Sarah Bauer; Sound Designer: Montana Johnson; Stage Manager: Gianna Haseman; Producer: Peter Christian Hansen.

Cast: Angela Timberman (Miriam)